A former Afghan national youth team footballer died when he became trapped in the landing gear of a US evacuation flight in a desperate attempt to flee the Taliban, it emerged today.
The remains of Zaki Anwari, 19, were discovered in the wheel well of a US C-17 transport jet when it arrived in Qatar after taking off from Kabul with despairing Afghans clinging to the fuselage on Monday.
The athlete was among several people who died after clambering onto the aircraft as it took off, with harrowing video showing bodies tumbling to the ground as the jet climbed into the sky.
The horrifying scenes of young men sat on a fin below the plane’s turbine as it barreled down the runway, only to then fall hundreds of feet to their deaths, will likely become the defining image of Joe Biden’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The United States Air Force later said that the pilots decided to go ahead with takeoff because the jet ‘was surrounded’ and there was a ‘rapidly deteriorating security situation around the aircraft.’
Mr Anwari’s death was confirmed by the General Directorate of Physical Education & Sports of Afghanistan, Arian News reported on Thursday.
The promising footballer had rushed to the airport hours after Kabul fell to the Taliban, joining thousands of others in pouring onto the runway and then chasing after the USAF jet despite warning shots ringing out.
The beloved teen had attended the prestigious French-speaking Esteqlal High School, in Kabul, and had been called up to the national youth team as a 16-year-old. His ‘unspeakable loss’ was mourned by his friends and peers on social media today.
In a poignant last Facebook post, Mr Anwari had written: ‘You’re the painter of your life. Don’t give the paint brush to anyone else!’
Zaki Anwari, 19, had played for the Afghan national youth football team
Dozens of young Afghan men were seen clambering onto the USAF jet as it took off from Kabul on Monday in scenes of utter despair and chaos. Mr Anwari’s remains where discovered in the wheel well when it landed in Qatar. The horrifying scenes of young men sat on a fin below the plane’s turbine as it barreled down the runway, only to then fall hundreds of feet to their deaths, will likely become the defining image of Joe Biden’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The 19-year-old is believed to be among several people who died after clinging to the jet as it took off on Monday
At least three bodies were seen falling from the USAF jet as it climbed into the air on Monday
People chasing after a USAF C-17 cargo jet at Kabul airport on Monday, when thousands poured onto the runway for a chance to flee the Taliban
One friend wrote today: ‘He was a brother, with whom I had the most unforgettable memories, and his unspeakable loss fills me with sadness.’
Afghanistan’s assistant manager Ali Askar Lali said: ‘May his soul rest in peace and his memory be remembered.’
The United States Air Force on Tuesday confirmed that it was opening an investigation into the takeoff that saw Mr Anwari and several others clinging to the plane’s exterior as it ascended.
Footage showed people sitting on fin below one of the plane’s turbines while others darted underneath the nose of the plane and in front of its wheels.
‘The aircraft was surrounded by hundreds of Afghan civilians who had breached the airport perimeter,’ said USAF.
‘Faced with a rapidly deteriorating security situation around the aircraft, the C-17 crew decided to depart the airfield as quickly as possible. Human remains were discovered in the wheel well of the C-17 after it landed at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.
‘The aircraft is currently impounded to provide time to collect the remains and inspect the aircraft before it is returned to flying status.’
Up to eight people were killed amid chaotic scenes at the airport on Monday, including two armed men who were shot by US troops. Evacuations were paused as American and allied soldiers attempted to secure the airport perimeter, before resuming 90 minutes later.
Since Sunday, a total of 12 people are believed to have been killed at Hamid Karzai airport, some of whom have been crushed in stampedes as terrified civilians react to constant rattles of machine gun fire.
And despite Washington’s claims that the airport has been secured, images and reports from the ground paint a terrifying picture of Taliban fighters roaming the perimeter and barring anyone from entering.
Ex-pats and Western visa holders can’t get ‘anywhere near’ the airport because of the ‘huge crowds’ of ‘terrified locals’ that are blocking the roads, MailOnline was told on Thursday.
This despite US and British lawmakers insisting Taliban guards are letting people through checkpoints and planes are not taking off empty.
Videos captured snapshots of the chaos as gunmen fired shots over the heads of panicked crowds while hitting people with rifles – as those on the ground said Taliban fighters were dishing out beating and lashings seemingly at random, with people being trampled and crushed in the throng.
Paul ‘Pen’ Farthing, a former Marine who now lives in Kabul with his wife, described the scene as a ‘clusterf***’, telling MailOnline: ‘Two ex-pats – one British and one Norwegian – have already been forced to turn back this morning because they can’t get through.
‘And last night a UN convoy carrying various foreign nationals, who had been working in Afghanistan for NGOs, had to turn round because of the sheer volume of people on the street.’
Such is the desperation among crowds at the airport that women have resorted to passing babies over barbed wire to soldiers in a vain attempt to get them out of the country.
An Afghan-Australian trying to leave the country also told the ABC that it is ‘not possible’ to get to the airport today because there is ‘lots of firing’ and ‘too many people’ while Max Sangeen, a Canadian interpreter, said his wife and children – including a 20-day-old baby – are trapped in Kabul despite having proper documents.
But it is not clear what, if anything, western troops can do to help. There are around 6,000 American and 900 British soldiers at the airport – alongside smaller numbers of Turks and Australians – but their jurisdiction only extends up to the perimeter wall. Beyond that, the Taliban is in charge.
And those on the ground say the Islamists have little or no idea what they are doing or who to let through, as the UN warned fighters are hunting through the crowd for those who collaborated with British or American forces so they can be ‘punished’, despite public reassurances that there will be no reprisal attacks.
Taliban gunmen open fire at crowds outside Kabul airport today as westerners and visa holders say they cannot get inside because of ‘huge crowds’ of ‘terrified locals’
Those on the ground say Taliban guards have little idea who to let inside the airport, while dishing out beatings, lashings and firing shots seemingly at random – causing further panic and chaos
UK defence secretary Ben Wallace insisting this morning that Taliban guards are allowing people with travel documents through checkpoints and that British flights are not leaving the country empty.
Mr Wallace said 120 people have been evacuated from the country today with another 138 due to follow later – but with military transports able to carry up to 150, it means there will have been empty seats on those flights.
Meanwhile Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said he expects 18 US flights to take off today, though it is not clear how many people will be able to board each plane.
But Mr Farthing slammed the comments as naive, saying: ‘Nobody can actually reach [the processing centre] because of the crowds and the chaos surrounding it.
‘It’s a lottery whether you get picked to get through the security. At the moment people who have seats booked on flights out of the airport are being turned back while others who storm fencing or are picked completely at random are getting on planes.
‘I’m livid at the Government’s mishandling of this, they need to take a moment, get their heads together, and work out a way with the Americans to help fly out ex-pats and those who need safety- like those who work for me – because otherwise we are looking at the worst humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan for a generation.’
Fawad Ahmadzai, another Canadian interpreter, said he and his family – a wife and four children – had been forced to ‘fight’ their way through guards to get to the airport terminal – saying they ignored his Canadian travel documents, beat him, and shot at him.
‘I was waving at them that I am a Canadian citizen,’ he said. ‘They didn’t even care about which passport I carry, they would only push us and hit us, and shooting ahead of us, scaring us so that we would leave.’
Meanwhile German national Vanessa Faizi, who had become trapped in Kabul after going to Afghanistan to visit family, spoke of violence at the airport before she managed to get a flight out.
‘We saw children being trampled on,’ she told journalists at an airport back in Germany.
Mr Wallace urged Afghan women not to pass babies to soldiers, saying unaccompanied children will not be put on flights. He did not say where the children will end up instead.
Elsewhere, Joe Biden continued to defend his decision to withdraw – insisting that chaos was inevitable while dismissing footage of people falling to their deaths from US planes as happening ‘four or five days ago’.
Boris Johnson was also mauled over the British government’s response to the crisis in a Commons debate, while foreign secretary Dominic Raab was facing calls to resign after it emerged he failed to make a crucial phone call about getting Afghan translators out of the country – delegating to a junior minister.
Labour MP Tom Tugendhat summed up the feeling of dismay when he said: ‘This is what defeat looks like.’
Mr Wallace also warned of the long-term damage the retreat from Afghanistan will do to the perception of western power, saying the scenes playing out in Kabul will encourage enemies in Moscow.
‘What I’m uncomfortable with is that we have a world order now, where resolve is perceived by our adversaries as weak, the West’s resolve,’ Wallace told BBC TV.
‘That is something we should all worry about: if the West is seen not to have resolve and it fractures, then our adversaries like Russia find that encouraging,’ Wallace told LBC radio.
Babies were thrown over barbed wire towards troops at Kabul airport in a desperate bid to get them out of the country as the west’s ignominious exit from Afghanistan continued
A young girl is passed to US soldiers guarding Hamid Karzai airport amid a desperate scramble to get out of the country by tens of thousands of Afghans who don’t want to be ruled by the Taliban
A British soldier carries an Afghan girl away from crowds at the gate, as Defence Secretary Ben Wallace today urged people not to pass their children to troops because they will not get a seat on flights out
Troops fired gunshots and let off stun grenades at the entrance to the northern military side of the airport overnight in a vain bid to keep crowds of thousands from rushing the gates
Tens of thousands of Afghans have gathered at the north and south entrances to Kabul airport in the hopes of securing a seat on western evacuation flights out of the country
Britain fears the Taliban’s return and the vacuum left by the West’s chaotic withdrawal will allow militants from al Qaeda to gain a foothold in Afghanistan, just 20 years after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States
As the airlift of Western citizens and Afghans who worked for foreign governments sought to ramp up, President Biden said US forces will remain until the evacuation of Americans was finished, even if that meant staying past the August 31 deadline for complete withdrawal.
In total, at least 8,000 people have been evacuated since Sunday, a Western security source in Kabul said.
A day earlier armed Taliban members prevented people from getting into the airport compound.
‘It’s a complete disaster. The Taliban were firing into the air, pushing people, beating them with AK47s,’ said one person who was trying to get through on Wednesday.
A Taliban official said commanders and soldiers had fired into the air to disperse crowds outside Kabul airport, but told Reuters: ‘We have no intention to injure anyone.’
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said domestic air carriers and civilian pilots will be allowed to fly into Kabul to conduct evacuation or relief flights only with prior U.S. Defense Department approval.
Facing a barrage of criticism over the U.S. withdrawal, Biden said chaos was inevitable. Asked in an interview with ABC News if the exit of U.S. troops could have been handled better, Biden said: ‘No. … The idea that somehow, there’s a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens.’
A new government to replace that of President Ashraf Ghani, who is in exile in the United Arab Emirates, may take the form of a ruling council, with Taliban supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada in overall charge, a senior member of the group said.
Afghanistan would not be a democracy. ‘It is sharia law and that is it,’ Waheedullah Hashimi, a senior Taliban official, told Reuters.
Ghani, who has been bitterly criticised by former ministers for leaving Afghanistan as Taliban forces swept into Kabul on Sunday, said he had followed the advice of government officials. He denied reports he took large sums of money with him.
‘If I had stayed, I would be witnessing bloodshed in Kabul,’ Ghani said in a video streamed on Facebook.
Meanwhile the Taliban celebrated Afghanistan’s Independence Day on Thursday by declaring it had beaten ‘the arrogant of power of the world’ in the United States, but challenges to their rule ranging from running the country’s frozen government to potentially facing armed opposition began to emerge.
From ATMs being out of cash to worries about food across this nation of 38 million people reliant on imports, the Taliban face all the challenges of the civilian government they dethroned without the level of international aid it enjoyed.
Meanwhile, opposition figures fleeing to Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley now talk of launching an armed resistance under the banner of the Northern Alliance, which allied with the U.S. during the 2001 invasion.
The Taliban so far have offered no plans for the government they plan to lead, other than to say it will be guided by Shariah, or Islamic, law. But the pressure continues to grow.
‘A humanitarian crisis of incredible proportions is unfolding before our eyes,’ warned Mary Ellen McGroarty, the head of the World Food Program in Afghanistan.
Satellite images have revealed the extent of the crisis at Kabul airport, with cars crammed up against the southern civilian entrance and northern military entrance that can be seen from satellites
Taliban fighters have now encircled the airport in Kabul and are deciding who gets to come in and who has to stay out. Checkpoints have been set up on both the civilian south side of the airport and the military north side, with gunshots fired in both locations to keep crowds back
Western nations have been accused of leaving people behind as evacuation flights take off from Kabul half-empty. Pictured are Afghan women and children disembarking a Spanish flight that had 50 people on board, despite having room for over 100
Afghan women disembark from a Spanish Airbus A-400M plane that had ‘just over 50 people’ on board despite having capacity for 150, at Torrejon de Ardoz air base near Madrid
Spain’s Ministers of Foreign Affairs Jose Manuel Albares (centre left) and Inclusion, Social Security and Migration Jose Luis Escriva (centre right) escort Afghan evacuees off the first flight to arrive from Afghanistan to Spain
Afghan men, women and children disembark from the first evacuation flight to land in Spain as the west pulls out of Afghanistan after 20 years of fighting
Thursday marked Afghanistan’s Independence Day, which commemorates the 1919 treaty that ended British rule in the central Asian nation.
‘Fortunately, today we are celebrating the anniversary of independence from Britain,’ the Taliban said. ‘We at the same time as a result of our jihadi resistance forced another arrogant of power of the world, the United States, to fail and retreat from our holy territory of Afghanistan.’
Unacknowledged by the insurgents, however, was their violent suppression of a protest Wednesday in the eastern city of Jalalabad, which saw demonstrations lower the Taliban’s flag and replace it with Afghanistan’s tricolor. At least one person was killed.
While urging people to return to work, most government officials remain hiding in their homes or attempting to flee the Taliban.
Questions remain over Afghanistan’s $9 billion foreign reserves, the vast majority now apparently frozen in the U.S. The country’s Central Bank head warns the country’s supply of physical U.S. dollars is ‘close to zero,’ which will see inflation raise the prices of needed food while depreciating its currency, the afghani.
Meanwhile, a drought has seen over 40% of the country’s crop lost, McGroarty said. Many fled the Taliban advance and now live in parks and open spaces in Kabul.
An Airbus A-400M military transport plane with ‘just over 50’ evacuees from Afghanistan lands in Spain overnight
‘This is really Afghanistan’s hour of greatest need, and we urge the international community to stand by the Afghan people at this time,’ she said.
Two of Afghanistan’s key border crossings with Pakistan, Torkham near Jalalabad and Chaman near Spin Boldak, are now open for cross-border trade. Hundreds of trucks have passed through, Pakistan’s interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed has said.
However, traders still fear insecurity on the roads, confusion over customs duties and pressures to price their goods even higher given the economic conditions.
There has been no armed opposition to the Taliban. But videos from the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul, a stronghold of the Northern Alliance militias that allied with the U.S. during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, appear to show potential opposition figures gathering there. That area is in the only province that has not fallen to the Taliban.
Those figures include members of the deposed government – Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who asserted on Twitter that he is the country’s rightful president, and Defense Minister Gen. Bismillah Mohammadi – as well as Ahmad Massoud, the son of the slain Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud.
In an opinion piece published by The Washington Post, Massoud asked for weapons and aid to fight the Taliban.